San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

A Touch of Cuba Served at Costa Rican Restaurant

IN Cuba, a bus is called aguagua and some friends and Ifound La Guagua parked in PlazaItskatzu in the western suburb ofGuachipelín, just west of Escazú.We hopped aboard and took a tripto the island of Cuba (metaphoricallyspeaking).Plaza Itskatzu has become agastronomic United Nations andthe recently opened Cuban restaurantLa Guagua is alive and wellamong its international cohorts.On entering the restaurantyou’re immediately aware of itscultural heritage. Scenes of oldHavana decorate the walls and attractive wrought ironlamps hang from the high ceiling. Dark wood, black leatherchairs, scarlet table clothes and napkins complement theattractive décor.“The Mojito Bar” acts as a reminder to order one ofCuba’s famous cocktails – the mojito. Highly recommended,this refreshing white rum and lime spritzer owes itsunique flavor to the large quantities of chopped fresh mintthat settle at the bottom of the glass. Surprisingly, it’s notlisted on the menu, presented in the form of a small newspaper.Front-page news is devoted to articles on Cuban cultureand historical tidbits, plus Cuban advertisements thatadd to its authenticity. On the inside pages you’ll find themenu with an interesting selection of Cuban specialties.IT’S hard to imagine a Cuban meal without a plantaindish of some form. Maduros (fried ripe plantain), mariquitas(green plantain chips), tostones (mashed fried greenplantain), plus beans and rice. Sounds like Costa Rica, butthe difference is the mojo accompanying the meal. AsCuba’s traditional table sauce – tangy, tart, and very garlicky– it is served with just about everything, including theenormous Cuban sandwiches – a meal in themselves. LaGuagua has an authentic selection that is extremely popularat lunchtime. Prices range from ¢2,300 ($5.35), to ¢3,400($7.90).We munched on mariquitasand tostones while we waited forour main course. I ordered RopaVieja meaning “old clothes”¢3,400 ($7.90). This shreddedmarinated skirt steak blended witha fresh tomato sauce, resembled alarge portion of brown spaghetti. Itwas tasty, but I left half as myappetite was defeated by theamount.PORK is a favorite withCubans and the Lechoncita wasserved with fried onions and a sourorange mojo sauce ¢3,450 ($7.95).Again tasty, though the age of thesuckling pig was questionable.The marinated fried pork chunksalso served with mojo were verypalatable and a better choice.La Guagua grilled chicken¢3,900 ($9), was by far thefavorite. A huge portion of succulentchicken breast served withyummy caramelized onions, aguava sauce, plus an aromatictomato, onion and cilantro mojo iswell worth recommending.The corvina grilled with a combinationof white wine, olive oiland parsley sounded very appetizing on the menu. Itappeared covered in a white parsley sauce.“JUST like our English mothers used to serve it,” acouple of us commented.It was fine, but not up to expectation, ¢4,450 ($10.35).All main courses came with a choice of three side dishes,including potatoes, beans, rice, steamed veggies (verygood), plus yuca and plantain cooked in a variety of forms.The table overflowed with small dishes. The portions at LaGuagua are extremely generous and we all passed on typicalCuban deserts such as flan and rice pudding.Cuban food is a result of four centuries of cultural minglingand still has a marked Spanish and African influence.Its primary flavors, garlic, lime or sour orange, onion andcumin permeate a Cuban kitchen.IF you’ve never sampled this island’s comfort food, avisit to La Guagua will certainly satisfy your curiosity, plusyou’ll get good service in pleasant surroundings.La Guagua is in Guachipelín’s Plaza Itskatzu by thePróspero Fernández Highway, west of San José. Open dailyfor lunch and dinner 11 a.m-3 p.m. and 6 p.m.- 11 p.m. Formore info or directions, call 288-5112.

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